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Anthony de Mello


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Anthony de Mello, also known as Tony de Mello, was an Indian Jesuit priest and psychotherapist. A spiritual teacher, writer, and public speaker, de Mello wrote several books on spirituality and hosted numerous spiritual retreats and conferences. He continues to be known for his storytelling, drawing from the various mystical traditions of both East and West. For introduced many people in the West to mindfulness-based practices, which he sometimes called "awareness prayer."

De Mello was the oldest of five children born to Frank and Louisa (née Castellino) de Mello. He was born in Bombay, British India, on 4 September 1931. He was raised in a Catholic family and dreamed of joining the Jesuit order one day. At the age of 16, de Mello entered the Society of Jesus at the seminary of Vinalaya on the outskirts of Bombay. 

In 1952, he was sent to Spain to study philosophy in Barcelona before undertaking ministry. He then returned to India to study theology at De Nobili College in Pune and was ordained to the priesthood in March 1961. After returning to India, he spent several years working in seminaries, and in 1968 he was rector of the seminary of Vinalaya.

De Mello was first attracted to the Jesuits for their strict discipline. Those who knew him during his earlier years in the order described him as somewhat conservative in his theology and reluctant to explore other religions. Some of his peers noted that his experience in Spain led him to broaden his perspective and lose much of his rigidity.

In 1972, he founded the Institute of Pastoral Counselling, later renamed the Sadhana Institute of Pastoral Counselling, in Poona, India. De Mello's first published book, Sadhana – A Way to God, was released in 1978. It outlined a number of spiritual principles and "Christian exercises in Eastern form" inspired by the teachings of Saint Ignatius. It popularized the notion of "awareness prayer" in the United States for his readers and for those who attended his lectures.

De Mello died of a heart attack in 1987, aged 55, in New York City. Bill De Mello, a brother of Tony's, recounts in his book Anthony deMello: The Happy Wanderer that Tony's body was found by Fr. Frank Stroud, S.J. According to Fr. Stroud, de Mello's body was curled up in a fetal position. His official death certificate lists the immediate cause of his death as "Atherosclerotic coronary artery disease with recent thrombosis of the left circumflex branch."

In 1998, 11 years after de Mello's death, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the leadership of its Cardinal-Prefect, Joseph Ratzinger (who later became Pope Benedict XVI), conducted a review of de Mello's work and released a lengthy comment expressing theological concern that de Mello's books "are incompatible with the Catholic faith and can cause grave harm."

 The Indian magazine Outlook saw this as an attempt by Rome to undermine the clergy in Asia amid widening fissures between Rome and the Asian Church. De Mello's books are available in many Catholic bookshops in the West. Still, they include the advisory that they were written in a multi-religious context and are not intended to be manuals on Christian doctrine.

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